The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

February 1, 2018

A local interpretation of Groundhog Day

Growing up in a rural area of southern Michigan, I had a chance to absorb a lot of our local farm culture. Back them there were plenty of old-timers who, in their younger days,  had farmed their acreage with teams of horses. Those gray-haired farmers had plenty of advice and time-worn proverbs to pass along. One that stands out for me is the meaning of Groundhog Day.

I don’t know the history of  Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney but the town has so successfully managed to turn Groundhog Day into its own event that many people don’t even know, or care, that this minor holiday has been around way before weatherman Phil Connors got caught in that time-loop in Pennsylvania. The first time I ever heard of the town of Punxsutawney was on an episode of  The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. I’m not sure in what context it was, I just thought it was funny to hear a cartoon character say “Punxsuatawney Pennsylvania”.

Most of the farmers in our area had some sort of livestock, often it was dairy cows. They would grow corn and hay as feed for their animals rather than purchase it off site from somewhere else. That meant storing feed on the farm; dried corn, still on the cobs, in corn-cribs and hay up in the second story hay mows above the livestock area on the ground floor. Farmers could easily judge by eye how much their livestock were eating.

Feeding livestock through the winter could be a challenge if the previous growing season’s harvest was below normal. Groundhog Day was, according to those farmers I knew, the half-way point of winter. By that they meant, if you still had half of your feed or more left in storage by Groundhog Day, you will make it through to spring. If not, then potentially you would run short of feed.

In our rural elementary school, Groundhogs Day was a fairly big deal. Our teachers never mentioned the practical side of the day but we did learn about the whole six weeks before spring thing. My classmates would come in to school on the morning of February second and excitedly report if they thought there was enough sunlight for a groundhog to cast a shadow.

I still use this day as reminder when I look in my deep-freezer and estimate how much frozen garden produce I have left from last year’s harvest.



March 28, 2014

Seed savers legacy

Filed under: Seed Starting,Storage and Preservation — bob @ 1:32 pm

Many long time gardeners have tried to save seeds only to let them go after a year or two. There’s been a few times in years past when, for one reason or another, I’ve let varieties slip through my fingers.

The best luck I’ve had is keeping my own variety of tomato seeds for years, as I’ve written about in past blog posts. But that pales in comparison to an Ann Arbor, Michigan area gardener who died recently. He left behind a collection of seeds that he had been saving for decades. Over 60 varieties of heritage annuals, biennials and vegetable seeds are in this treasure trove.

All of that valuable plant genetics could have been lost in a single year if not for a group of like-minded gardeners. Several of his friends got together and came up with a plan to save the work of that dedicated seed saver.

Each person took a few varieties and agreed to grow them. Then, at the end of the season, they would harvest the seeds and share them with the rest of the group. That way no one particular gardener had to take on the responsibility of growing all 60 varieties.

Many of those plant varieties were around before the gardener was born. The seeds passed into his hands for awhile, he nurtured and propagated  them. Now they are passing into new hands.

What a terrific gift to pass on to a new generation.


December 21, 2012

Taking Care of Sauerkraut Crock

Filed under: Storage and Preservation — bob @ 2:20 pm

Sometimes it feels like I’m still gardening even though the growing season is over.

For example, I’ve been tending my batch of sauerkraut for nearly a month now. Every couple of days I check it to make sure everything’s going OK. The anaerobic bacteria that ferment the cabbage can’t tolerate air so, I need to make sure all of the cabbage is covered completely with cabbage juice.

Mold likes to grow on the surfaces of the crock — or food-safe plastic pail — and the plates I use to cover the kraut. Mold has to be cleaned off as it appears. It’s sort of like removing weeds from a garden as they start to grow. The mold is not only unappetizing, but it can spoil the kraut too.

Now that it has fermented for a while, I harvest a smaller layer of kraut every time I check it. If a minuscule amount of mold or aerobic bacteria try to get started there,  it gets removed. Of course, I throw out any that is spoiled.

It took 12 heads of cabbage from my garden to make five gallons of sauerkraut.

So, I’m tending a garden that has billions and billions of probiotic bacteria and they need to be well cared for.

I made my first batch of sauerkraut way back in 1978. It was so successful that I’ve continued to make it ever since. It’s something I look forward to every fall.

I eat my sauerkraut raw, straight from the crock. It has a satisfying crunch and a tangy flavor that is different with each batch. Now, if I cooked it, I’d kill all of those probiotic bacteria I’ve been nurturing.

By the way in my Polish family, everyone calls it kapusta, not sauerkraut.


October 5, 2012

For Storage, Leave Stems On Winter Squash

Filed under: Storage and Preservation,Vegetables — bob @ 12:07 pm

We had a pretty decent Butternut squash yield this year. I planted them in a new part of the garden, which I’m sure helped boost the yield. Plus, we had very few insects on the squash. As a result, we now have plenty of Butternut that will go into storage straight from the garden – unprocessed.

If you keep winter squash under the proper conditions, you can enjoy them well into winter. The most important thing to keep in mind is to leave the stem on the squash. This is true of all varieties of winter squash and pumpkins.

Winter squash store best with the stems left on.

If you plan to use them in the next week or two, then it really doesn’t matter if the squash has a stem or not.

Sometimes you can find farmers selling stemless winter squash at a deep discount. Other than cooking them for a meal, you can freeze or can those bargain farmer’s market squash to use later on.

If the stems are breaking off  your squash as you pick them, use your pruning shear to cut the stems from the vine. You’ll find it’s worth the extra effort.

Store your best, unblemished squash  in a spot that will stay around 50F and have about 50 percent humidity. You should be able to enjoy your home-grown squash into early 2013.


September 28, 2012

Watermelon Harvest

Filed under: Storage and Preservation — bob @ 9:52 am

One of the best investments I made this year wasn’t in stocks or bonds. It was buying a $1.89 pack of watermelon seeds from the hardware store.

I forgot to order watermelon seeds in my regular online seed order so, I bought them locally. They had only one pack of one variety left so I bought it. I mentioned these melons in previous posts.

This week I needed to harvest all of the watermelon since they were all ripe and ready to go.

That one pack yielded 32 full-sized watermelons! What do you do with 32 huge watermelons? After friends and family got their melons, there were still plenty left.

One thing I always wanted to try was dehydrating watermelons. That’s exactly what I did.  About 2 – 1/2 watermelons — minus their rinds —  fit into my food dehydrator. It took almost 20 hours to dry them down so they were no longer moist and sticky. I filled up four quart food storage bags with that batch.

These watermelon slices started out about 1/2" thick. After drying, they were about the thickness of a nacho chip.

The dehydration process concentrated the sweetness so much that they taste like some kind of exotic candy.

My dried watermelon will be a real treat this winter when the snow is flying. I still plan juice a few melons and try out watermelon wine with some others.


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